Page images
PDF

member, and his professional as a great lawyer, cm the question of competency in parliament with respect to the controul of the civil list revenue, Sir Fletcher Norton, after stating several causes which rendered him extremely averse to 111? giving of any opinion in that house, except in his official capacity, likewise observed, that a private opinion which he had for

• merly given on a great law question in that house, and which he thought himself professionally called upon to give, (supposed to allude to a clause in the royal marriage bill) as well as in compliance with the apparent desire, and seeming wisti of the house, not only subjected him to a misinterpretation of his conduct, but he had also the misfortune to find, had given great offence in a quarter, where he certainly did not intend or wish to give .any.

He afterwards observed, that the noble lord at the head of affairs, had long withdrawn all friendship and' confidence from him. That from the time of his. reporting the sense of that house at the bar of the other, on occasion of presenting the money bills, for the discharge of the civil list debts, and the increase of its revenue, all appearances even of friendship, confidence, and good will, had ceased on the side of the noble lord. 'He was still at a loss even to .guess, what just cause of offence he had then given. What lie had done upon that occasion was, to- the best of his judgment, only in discharge of his duty. If

_. he bad acted wrong, it arose from error, not from design; and whatever others might think of his conduct, he .ha J the satisfaction, of its

having been unanimously approved of by that house.— He hi.it ed at injury in a regent tafrfactiot), from which tbr minister and he must from thenct forward stand upon the most inequivocal terms. He declared that he wa> not a friend to the noble lord, and that he had repeated and convincing proofs, that the,Hoblc lord was not his friend. The time was tint yet arrived, he said, when it would be proper to make the circumstances • of the transaction public. But is the noble lord did not do him justice, he would state the particular.! to the house; and he would submit to them, how far he was bound to remain in a situation, where a performance of the duties annexed to it, subjected him to gross and flagrant injury.

The minister equally pleaded ignorance and innocencij^Bccoiiipanied with no small degree of surprize at the charge. Enquiry, explanation, and talking the subject over, instead of mollifying matters, only served to blow them up to a flame; and at length induced the speaker to depart from bis preceding avowed intention, of reserving for future contingencies, his disclosure of the cause of complaint.

He accordingly stated, that upon the death of the late speaker, he had been strongly solicited by the theu minister (Duke of Grafton) to accept of his present honourable situation, before he could bring himself to a compliance. That besides his sense of the great weight of the important duties which he was to discharge in his present office, there were other very cogent motives which operated to this reluctance. It could neither be deemed arrogance or vanity in him to say, when his character at the bar, fcis"itfjtiding, and his general pretension? were considered, that he was (hen at the;head of his profession as a common lawyer. The honours of his profession were according!)' open to him; and he was determined not to relinquish his claim to these upon any account whatever. The nobleman then at the head of administration wished to remove this objection; and prevailed on a gentleman, then present, and in high office, to negotiate the business. The terms concluded upon were, that until he could be provided for in the way of his profession, (that stipulation taking place of all others, and consequently, that whenever an opportunity offered, the way should be kept open for his return to Westminster Hall) he should hold the sinecure office of lord chief justice in Eyre, which he now possessed, as au equivalent, and compensation, for the advantages he had given up, and the duties which he was to undertake.

[graphic]

But notwithstanding this compact, be had lately discovered, to his infinite surprize, that a negotiation was in train, between the coble minister then present, and the chief judge of one of the courts, by which the lattnr was to retire on a pention, for the purpose of appointing another person (a law officer then likewise present) to supply his place, and to the utter subversion of bis own claim. He scarcely complained less of the conduct and behaviour of the minister, upon his personal application to him on the subject, than

he did of the supposed injury of the transaction. He assured the committee, that he never meant to challenge their attention, upon any subject merely personal to himself 5 but thinking at all times, that nothing stiould be kept more pure and unpolluted, than the fountains of justice, he could not but feel when any measure was adopted, under whatever pretext, that might afford even colour for a suspicion of their being corrupted; or that any improper means were resorted to, for rendering the courts of justice subservient to party, and to factious views; he therefore thought it a duty highly incumbent upon him, to take notice of the present transaction. -Jie concluded by asserting, that money had been proposed to be given and received, to bring about the arrangement -he had mentioned; and pledged himself to the house, that at a proper time, he would undertake to prove it to their satisfaction.

The gentlemin in office, who had been alluded to by the speaker, with respect to the original transaction, acknowledged, that he had been prevailed upon by the noble duke, then at the head of public affairs, to deliver the mes» sage in questions and that the particulars appeared to him to have been now fairly stared; but as far as he could charge his memory at this distance of time, he had never understood, that any of those particulars came regularly or pro* perly to the knowledge of the noble lord now at the head of administra* tion.

The minister declared, that he did not look upon himself responses] 2 table siblc for any promise which might have been made by his predecessors in office. He did not question the account given by the right honourable gentleman, of the considerations on which he had accepted of the chair in that house; but he could fairly answer, that he neither knew of the transaction at the time, nor looked upon himself as bound, when he did come into office, by any such promise. With respect to the speaker's assertion, of a negotiation, such as he had described, being on foot, and of money being proposed to be. given and received, he must dissent totally from it as to the point of fact. He assured him, that he had been grosly misinformed; and as lie was himself accused of bring one os the a6ting parties, he. was entitled to fay, that no such negotiation was on foot, as that which had been stated.

This brought out much warm altercation, which run into assertion and direct contradiction, between the speaktir and the minister j and which gave rise to such a scene, and with such personages, as never had been exhibited there at any former time. The first law' officer of the crown in that house, who had been alluded l<> ;u a principal party in the negotiation, disclaimed the imputation with great spirit; and in a speech fraught with his usual sharp and pointed eloquence, threw out no small lhare of severity, in a peculiar strain of sarcasm, and ironical satire, upon the complaint aud conduct os the speaker.

Although thU affair made a considerable noise at the time, yet it soon died away; and pro

duced no other effect, than that of affording a new ground of argument to the opposition, lhat the alarming influence which they charged to the crown, had not only' pervaded, but disturbed the due order and œconomy, of every department, of whatever nature, in the state. In the mean time, that law arrangement, which was now charged to a supposed negotiation, not found, or admitted to exist, took place not long after in the same degree and effect, which the completion of such a negotiation could have been expected to produce.

We have lately seen the severe strictures that were pasted hi the House of Lords, on the appointment of Mr. Fuliarton, to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the army, and to the command of an intended new regiment. Some terms and expressions which were used on that occasion, having given great offence to the gentleman in question, he thought proper to call the subject up- is his place, as a member of tlie House of Commons, before he entered upon measures of 2 more summary and decisive nature for the obtaining of satisfaction.

He accordingly took n&- .. sice in that House, that his character, and his conduct in offering to raise a regiment, had been reflected upon by a noble earl in the other; a matter which had given him the greater uneasiness, as he was puzzled how to act, in order to wipe away the imputation. He rose therefore to explain the motives of his conduct, and bespoke the patience of the house, as he felt his honour wounded. wounded, and had ardently wished for an opportunity of removing the bad impressions of his conduct, to which the place where the reflections were thrown out, was likely to give occasion. That the reflections, as he Tinderstood, were extremely gross; the noble, earl, terming him a clerk, and in the most contemptuous manner remarking, that a clerk ought not to be trusted with a regiment; at the fame time adding to that remark, other insinuations, as false as they were illiberal.

He then proceeded in a stile of personal invective against a noble earl by rtame, which called up Mr. Fox to order, who exclaimed agaiust the unparliamentary conduct, of thus stating what was said in the other house, and of thus mentioning peers by name, in that; a practice, not to be endured, and contrary to every rule of parliament. After stating the impossibility of their knowing, whether the words alluded to were really spoken, he proceeded to urgue the impropriety, of considering what was said in debate as a private and personal attack. On that ground, he must once for all declare, that if such a custom prevailed, the freedom of debate must cease; and he contended, that the most essential of all the rights of parliament would be lost, if it were once admitted as a principle, that a personal affront was intended to gentlemen, whenever their names and public conduct were mentioned in debate.

The minister, (who had himself smarted, particularly during the present session, under the severities of the noble earl, whose name was now in question) admit

ted, that it was certainly wrong, in either house, to introduce the name of any member of the other. There were some occasions, however, which would justify it, and he thought the present case one of them. After high compliments and praise to Mr. Fullarton, and insinuating, that he had gained great honour by the spirit with which he had felt and resented the injury, even supposing that he had erred in the means of justification; he, however, recommended to him, to treat all personal attacks with indifference and contempt. To give efficacy to this advice by example, he informed the gentleman in a friendly manner, of his own conduct in such situations. Noble "lords in another place, he said, were very apt to be personal, and they very often made free with himself. Among other names, one of them had lately called hirst a thing. The appellation, however contemptuously meant, was certainly truly applied; for he undoubtedly was a thing. But the noble lord had put an addition to it; he said he was a thing called a minister. A moments consideration convinced him that this ought not to be regarded as an affront, because a moment's consideration reminded him, that the noble lord who had dubbed him a thing called a ?ninister, had not the smallest objection to become that very thing himself.

This advice and example, had not their effect. Much altercation continued; strong words were still used; and Mr. Fullarton defended himself by observing, that the noble earl had attacked him by name. He, however, vindicated

ftf] 3 hi. bit warmth by informing the house, that the earl in question had asserted, that he and his regiment, ■would be as ready to draw their swords against the liberties of their country as against its foes.

The matter did not end there. In consequence of a message from Colonel Fullarton, and delivered by the Earl of Balcarras the Earl of Shclburne, accompanied by Lord Frederic Cavendisti, as his second, gave them a meeting in HydePark. The earl being wounded by his antagonist's second (hot, with great generosity of spirit, fired his own pistol notwithstanding in the air. But something being afterwards hinted of a declaration that he had intended nothing personal, he replied, the affair had taken another train, and that was no place for explanation; at the fame- time telling bis adversary, that if he felt any presentment, he found himself, not withstanding bis wound, able to go on. But Mr. Fullarton disdained the idea, and hoped that be could not be thought capable of harbouring such a sentiment.— We are not fond of dwelling on the circumstances of these unhappy personal contests, which had arisen from the violent and disordered state of the times; further, than their connection with parliamentary history, renders absolutely necessary.

March aad. This matter, which happened in HydePark early in the morning, was brought forward in the House of Commons, on the afternoon of the fame day, by Sir James Lowther. He qbserved, that this mauner of fighting duels, in conse

quence of parliamentary business, or of expressions dropped in debate in either house, seemed growing into such a custom, that it behoved them to interpose their authority, before it acquired the force of a settled habit; others wise, that there must be an end of all freedom of debate, and consequently of all business in parliament. He therefore hoped, that the house would exert itself in such a manner, as to render the two recent instances the last of the kind. If free debate was to be interpreted into personal attack, and questions of a public nature, which came before either house, were to be decided by the sword, the Britilh parliament would be at once reduced to the condition of a Polisli diet. In such circumstances, he thought it would be better for the members totally to give up all ideas of parliamentary discussion, to abandon the senate, and resort at once to the field; where, without farther trouble, they might have recourse-to arms, as the sole arbiter of political difference of opinion.

Mr. Fullarton's friends, besides passing the highest eulogiums on that gentlemau's character, hinted the impropriety or indelicacy of entering at all into the matter in his absence; Sir James Lowther replied, that as it was the last day of their sitting before the Easter recess, and he knew the house had still much necessary business before it, he had no intention of proceeding any farther then upon the subject; but he considered the freer dom of debate as so immediately involving the very existence of parliament, that he should move, immediately

« PreviousContinue »